Politics: KMLA Special Lecture -- 2004
KMLA Special Lecture on Politics -- January 26, 2004
I know that many of you will not understand this lecture. You have not yet learned enough English. I am going to tell you the three main lessons. First: LOVE. Second: HAPPINESS. And Third: KNOWLEDGE. If you can understand what I say, I hope you will try to show love for those who do not understand. I will teach you about happiness and if you learn, you will give this knowledge to those who do not understand what I am saying.
Why do we have governments? Why do we need politics?
Why are there wars? Why is there hunger, when millions of people eat far too much? Why are many people homeless, while some have large and beautiful homes. Why do some people die of diseases that can be prevented or cured easily? Why are some people very, very poor while others are very, very rich?
Why have many Koreans died from a lack of food while other Koreans are never hungry? Is it because the land in North Korea is poor? Once North Korea was richer than South Korea. How did this change? What caused people to starve in North Korea? Are the North Korean people lazy or do they work hard? Is there some important difference in the North Korean government?
What about you? Should you do something about the hungry, homeless, sick, or poor? Should you make the world better? Or should you just take care of yourself--”buy a nice home, a beautiful car, and live well? Should you seek a better life yourself or a better life for everyone?
Many of you may hope to be tomorrow's leaders, but probably few of you are interested in politics. You study hard so you can become a leader in some special area. Perhaps you will become a doctor or lawyer, a business leader or a professor. Perhaps you will become a famous scientist.
It is politics that will determine whether people live or die. That is why really wise people want to know about it. You may study hard to become a doctor, lawyer, business leader, or professor -- but if you ignore politics, if you are ignorant of the importance of politics for your life and for the lives of other people that you care about, government may prevent you from doing your job. It may keep you from being a doctor, lawyer, business leader, or professor. It may put you in jail. It may even kill you.
You don't think so, but if you were living in North Korea, Russia under Stalin or Germany under Hitler, you would know that many people have gone to jail and many have died because of the decisions of government. Here in Korea, government once outlawed Korean names and the Korean language. Government can help life or cause death.
But it was only this afternoon that I realized the best way to introduce you to politics. Politics is not about campaigns, or speeches, or presidents. It is about LOVE. That is the essence of all politics. LOVE. If you watch a democracy, you may not see this. Politics in a democracy looks more like hate. When candidates want to become president of the United States, they attack each other as if they were at war. But that is the other side of politics -- it may be LOVE or it may be HATE. The difference is simple: EDUCATION.
Roots: The Natural Basis of Politics
As you might suspect, there is a reason for government. There is a reason for politics. There is, of course, a reason for everything -- even though we may not know what the reason is.
The reason for politics is human nature. We do not like to be alone. We are naturally social. One name for this desire to be together is LOVE. We gather together with other people for many reasons. We form groups, communities, societies, nations because we love being with other people. We do not want to live our lives entirely alone, so we form groups and groups require leadership and a means of managing themselves. That is politics.
If there is no way of working together, there will be conflict until someone finds a way. Groups and societies and nations are based on LOVE so they want PEACE and order. Until that order is found, there is WAR. Order is government, and politics is the science of government. It teaches us how to live together in peace. There are some people who live apart from society, but unless they are very wise, they are probably less than human -- people who we might call crazy.
Most of us, however, are not geniuses and we are not crazy. We need people. We love people.
The most basic reason that people do not want to live their lives entirely alone is LOVE. One person cannot produce children. It takes two people. It takes LOVE. We can live for no more than 120 years, all human life on earth would end in about a century without LOVE. With more than six billion people on Earth, it is clear that there is a lot of love on earth. We are not alone.
Love is the beginning of government. But the need to have children is not the only reason we wish to be together. We are lazy. LAZY. We don't like work. So we don't like to be alone. If we work alone, we work very hard. Each of us has limited knowledge, skills and power, so we can do little and it may require a lot of time and energy to do even the simplest tasks.
We can do much more if we work together in groups. By cooperating with others -- by forming a pack, a herd, a group, a team -- we can produce much more with much less effort and time. People are naturally lazy, so we look for ways of working less and living better. Wouldn't it be much easier if we divided up our homework and every student just did one question? If we have to write a paper, wouldn't it be easier to use the same paper for everyone?
We like groups, and we find that the larger the group, the better our lives can be. If we are well organized in very large groups, the work is even easier. If we work for a very large corporation, we may fly on private jets, eat at expensive restaurants, play golf, relax at beautiful resorts, and be very well paid to work very little. If we work for a small business, we may work very long hours, have a lot of stress, and make very little money. That is why the internet is so popular. It connects a billion people and makes it easy to do things that were once impossible.
Wealth -- well-being -- is increased by joining very large, very well-managed organizations. That is why families and villages and cities eventually combined into nations and nations were combined in empires. It is natural for us to organize large societies.
Forms of Government
How do we organize our societies? Let's begin at the beginning. LOVE. Producing children creates the most basic society. Politics begins with the family. Every family has a government. Aristotle says that in most families the father is like a king and his children are like his subjects. The king usually loves and protects his subjects, but he also makes the decisions and acts as he thinks is right.
The mother, however, is not a subject. Her husband does not have complete power over her. Aristotle, writing nearly 2500 years ago said that a woman is equal in a marriage, but husband and wife must follow certain customs if they wish to have peace. The politics of marriage, says Aristotle, is based on a constitution -- a body of traditional rules that tell husbands and wives what they should do. In a family, parents must learn their jobs and practice them well. The father has absolute power over his children, but must study and follow tradition with his wife.
The family gives us the first political system -- a monarchy -- rule by one person -- rule by a king. It also gives us the first constitutional government -- rule by a system of customs or laws.
The family is a very, very small society. Families do not live apart from the rest of mankind. Every small family is part of a larger family, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives. This extended family is the beginning of the village or the tribe or the clan. The enlarged family is traditionally led by the oldest man. He is helped in ruling by the other older members of the family and he must follow traditions and customs. Younger members of the family do not usually have much to say about ruling. This form of government is called an oligarchy -- rule by some people, while most people have no part in ruling.
As villages become larger, as they expand into cities or into nations, the bonds of family love are gone. This leads to a wider variety of forms of government. In long established societies, the bonds of love may be strong. Koreans feel a connection to each other, even though they are not from the same family. They feel less connection to people from other countries.
When there is no love, we do not consider the well-being of others. We can make them slaves, we can take their land and property, we can even kill them. We do not see them as our children, we do not see them as our brothers and sisters, we do not see them as our aunts and uncles or nieces and nephews. They are strangers. Not much different from animals or plants or rocks.
Because of this, when larger societies form, people may decide to use customs or laws or agreements to limit the power of those who rule. This is what happened in England nearly 800 years ago, when many powerful people forced the king to agree to the Magna Carta -- the Great Charter -- rules to limit the king's power. In other cases, people will decide to destroy the government and create a new government. This is what happened in America more than 200 years ago, when leading citizens decided to force the British government to stop ruling the thirteen American colonies. In other cases, an outside government will make war to destroy a nation's government and replace it with another. This is what happened in Korea nearly 60 years ago, when Russia, America and other nations defeated Japan and ended its rule.
The Purpose of Politics
So, we have societies ranging from families to the entire world, and we have systems of government that begin with loving fathers and end with governments that rule over people who they may not love at all. It is this lack of love that causes most people to dislike politics.
But the purpose of politics is clear. It is to help us live together in a way that will benefit all of us. Aristotle says that the purpose of politics is to guide our society in such a way as to maximize human happiness. If people are happy, the government has succeeded. But the government must make everyone happy -- not just some people. If it helps some people to be happy while others are poor, hungry, and sick, it is a failure. The ideal government gives people a comfortable life with lots of free time and it requires very little work or struggle.
If people are free to choose, they will choose such a government. When communism ruled
Societies exist to make life easier and more pleasant for people. A well-run society can accomplish a lot with much less work. We can judge the government of a nation or the management of an organization by looking at how well the society succeeds. If everyone is working long hours and having trouble paying their bills, government may be failing. That is why millions of Mexicans have left
Aristotle tells us a great secret about the goal of life. Work is not the goal of life, he says. Work should be limited to what is necessary -- so that we can have more leisure. The idea may seem quite extreme, but it is very similar to what was taught by the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius said that we should work, but that we should do only what is necessary or useful. If we limit our work to what is necessary or useful, we will have an easier life and much more free time.
Many people think of advanced nations -- the United States, Germany, England, France, Taiwanand Korea -- as the most successful countries. But many people work very hard in these countries. In more primitive societies, people may work only about 10 to 20 hours per week. In advanced societies, many people work 40 or 50 hours or more just to live.
Ask yourself if the life you are leading is completely happy. Are you studying and working 10 or 20 hours a week? What change could be made by government that would give you much more free time and much less time in class, less homework, and freedom from tests. How can government increase happiness for you and for other Koreans? Is all this work really necessary?
If we are to find happiness, we must learn what makes happiness possible and we must know how politics can increase our happiness. That requires a different kind of education.
Education and Politics
You are all being educated. You are some of
Did you learn how to be happy in your school or in your evening classes? Did you learn it in this winter camp? Why not? Isn't it important to you?
If your teachers know the secret to lasting happiness, why haven't they told you? Isn't that knowledge important? Isn't it more important than grammar? Isn't knowing about happiness more useful than knowing about calculus?
What have your schools been teaching you? You know. They have taught you to work very, very hard. They have taught you to do what you are told to do and to do it very well, even if it seems useless. Even if it is useless. They warned you that you will have a difficult and unhappy life if you do not work very hard and do your very best. They have taught you to work. WORK.
But I would guess that no one has taught you that work should be used to increase your free time -- your time for play -- your leisure. Hasn't anyone told you what Aristotle said nearly 2500 years ago? Aristotle said ". . . the first principle of all action is leisure. Both work and leisure are necessary, but leisure is better than work, and is the goal of work." If one of the world's greatest teachers taught this so long ago -- how can it be a secret now?
Aristotle said that our actions should be aimed at leisure, not at work. We should work only to have more leisure. If you know about other great teachers -- Confucius (Kong-Ja) or Plato, for example, you probably know that they did not work as hard as you or your parents or your teachers do. Why not learn from Confucius or Buddha or Plato. Why not learn from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius -- he said we should not simply do as our parents have taught us.
Aristotle is right, and you know it. If you can finish your work quickly and easily, and have more time to play, don't you do it? My students at KMLA are always looking for a faster and easier way of doing things. They work hard because the school requires it, but they never work harder than they have to. We are all lazy. It is human nature. Don't fight it.
Almost every government in the world educates its citizens. Education is one of the most important parts of organizing a society, If people learn to work together well, society will be better. Conflict can be reduced and harmony increased.
But most governments want you to learn to work very hard. Why? Because your hard work can give other people wealth and free time. So, they teach you to be employees, to work long hours, to pay taxes and to create wealth for others. Aristotle says they are training you to be a slave.
If government loves you, it will want you to learn how to be happy. I went to school in
Happiness and Politics
Some of you will laugh and say, "this is completely crazy. "Others may think, "well, maybe it makes sense, but I think I should just continue to work hard, study hard, and get good grades and high test scores." Only a very few of you will listen and follow these teachers.
How do I know this? Because Lao-tse (No-Ja) said it about 200 years before Aristotle. He said that life is easy if we know what to do. So he wrote a little book to teach us. But in the little book he said, most people will not believe what is true, and even those who do believe it will not follow the teachings.
Most of you are working very seriously to become good citizens. Most of you will become good employees and hard workers. The government's education system will reach its goal. It will train slaves who will work hard to create wealth for others to enjoy in the years to come.
But I know, too, that a few of you will hear what the wisest teachers of the past 3,000 years have taught -- and you will want to learn more and follow their teachings.
Here is one lesson you should learn. Happiness is not the same thing as pleasure. The happier we are, the less we need to find pleasure. Those who are unhappy spend their lives pursuing pleasure. They drink and smoke -- they find both pleasant. They use drugs and find the experience pleasant. But these pleasures do not make them truly happy.
Many people try to become rich, because they believe that if they have enough money, they will be happy. Yet this does not lead to happiness. They buy beautiful homes and cars and jewels, and other people may think that rich people must be happy, but rich people often feel empty and depressed. They turn to drugs and alcohol to forget their unhappiness. They remain unhappy.
The way to lasting happiness is not through pleasure, so most people never find it, even though the world's greatest teachers have all pointed to it. It is doing the right thing, the path of virtue.
Few people think that the very best behavior will bring them happiness. Many people think there is more pleasure in doing what they have been told is bad. They think doing the right thing will be boring and unprofitable. They think that if they are always truthful they will never do as well as people who lie to get something they want. Confucius (Kong-Ja), Buddha, Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, Mahatma Gandhi -- they all say the same things. Do what is right.
But what IS right? It isn't difficult. Do what is good for life. If we act preserve life, to make life more enjoyable, to increase the amount of life on earth or to extend life into the universe -- that action will be good, that action will be right, that action will be virtuous. If we do anything that harms life or prevents it from continuing and expanding throughout the universe, that action will not be virtuous. It will produce unhappiness. If we do things which are neither good for life nor harmful to life, they are unnecessary. We will be happier if we do not do them.
Politics is the art or science of government. If the purpose of society is to do what is best for life, we can judge our government by what it does for life. If it kills people, we must judge whether the killing of people is good for life. Aristotle says that punishing the wicked is necessary. Confucius says that we should treat good people well, but treat bad people as they deserve.
Government must make many decisions about human lives. If it is guided by wisdom and virtue -- if it knows what is good for life and if it always does what is good for life, it will produce the best possible society.
When we look at the world today, we might ask just one question. Is the world community well governed? Are people happy? Are they well fed? Are they safe? Are the leaders of the world wise? Are they doing what is best for life? Are they acting to assure the future happiness of all the world's people?
Of course, the answer is never simple. Are people starving? Of course. Perhaps a billion people are not receiving the food they need for good health. Are they dying due to crimes, diseases, accidents, wars. Of course. In
At the same time, much of the world is peaceful, and much is rich.
Politics and You
Politics is simple. We want to learn how to live together in peace and harmony under a government that knows what is best and does what is best for life.
Your role in all this is up to you. You can learn to be a slave to the current rulers. Or you can learn what will bring you and others to lasting happiness. If you learn about love, about happiness, and about doing what is right, you will have all the power you need to build a better world. Until you learn these things, you may be ignorant, unhappy and at war with others.